Interviews for Theatre School Give Me Panic Attacks (Part 3:NTS)

I was due for a success when I got into the National Theatre School of Canada

I don’t know why I am so hesitant to tell you a story about success.

It’s really a little off-brand for me to tell about a really happy moment.

But, after telling you about my two horrific interviews at The Soulpepper Academy, which climax when I fail to name a play from the twentieth century and then suddenly almost die, it only feels right to give you the upside of anxiety: I learned a definite lesson from that failure/near-death.

As I mentioned when I first told you about Soulpepper, one of my biggest insecurities is that I’m not smart enough for any room. I entered those interviews thinking, ok I’m not smart enough so I’m just going to act like a smart person and say really smart things like smart people do.

Ok. The lesson from Soulpepper is: Don’t do that. Don’t pretend to be anything I am not. They have invited me there to interview me. I have to be me. Whether or not I’m smart enough isn’t really for me to decide.

The story isn’t really about success.

This is a story about trusting myself. Finding pride in myself. Letting anxiety fuck off.

After my two terrible Soulpeppers interviews, by the time Brian Drader from The National Theatre School of Canada (NTS) called me I felt certain that I was too mental to succeed…at anything.

Sometimes the ease of anxiety, the way it sometimes wins no matter what I do, sometimes sometimes, I think it’s bigger that I am.

It isn’t true.

I agreed to the interview at NTS even though I thought it might be a prank. 

I didn’t feel as nervous as I did when I was interviewing at Soulpepper but that is because there are key details about Soulpepper that were triggering.

For one thing, Soulpepper resides in Toronto. I grew up in Toronto. I have been to plenty of their big, fancy, expensive, sold out shows. Their success was intimidating. PRESSURE.

NTS is in Montreal and I knew virtually nothing about it when I applied. I had never been to Montreal. I wasn’t even booking my own trip. The school booked and paid for everything. It was such a fairy tale, too mystifying to be physically terrifying in any way. Great.

The other thing is, Soulpepper was a relatively new school, their building is new, their website features shiny new headshots from up and coming local actors. Everything about Soulpepper is hip and cool. I do not do hip and cool. PRESSURE.

NTS is old. I can fake hip and cool at NTS. Great.

Of course, the final trigger point for Soulpepper was that I had never had an interview as a playwright. PRESSURE.

NTS was already my third interview. At this point I’m thinking, unless I walk into this interview and I’m faced with a battalion of naked warriors, nothing will shock me. Great.

I land in Montreal and go straight to the school. Montreal is a French city. I do not speak French. Automatically: Twilight zone. Cool, I’m into it. Anything weird and cartoon-like makes me feel oddly calmer, like I’m in a dream and there’s nothing I can do about what’s happening to me.

The result is either awesome or harmless. Go forth.

Somehow I find the school.

The entrance is the exact opposite of Soulpepper which was filled with food and chatter. This old, museum-like building is wide, spacious and completely void of people.

I don’t know if I tell someone that I’m here for my playwriting interview or if Brian Drader just comes sauntering out from the heavens but here he is and he’s smiling.

This is the man I spoke to on the phone, the head of the playwriting department, and he’s coming to greet me which is far-and-away better than the lady at Soulpepper who greeted me and then asked me if I could give Albert Schultz his lunch.

Brian leads me up the oldest stairwell in the world. He tells me that it’s getting warm outside and so he’s already not wearing shoes. I notice his bare feet. He tells me he can’t help it he really prefers bare feet.

I watch his feet. When I was a kid, I couldn’t help it, I had an undying urge to take my socks off and exist barefooted. I was often told how dirty I was for doing so. And I felt shame. This man is No Shame.

His bare feet climbing the yellow stairs are a momentous reminder: No matter what, no matter what they ask me, I need to give answers that are undeniably Rachel.

This is the first time in my life that I have actively decided to be myself. No matter what. Otherwise, I know, I will look like an idiot.

I need a strategy that will keep me in my body. I don’t have meditation yet, I don’t have mindfulness, I don’t have basic breathing skills. I need a voice in my head that tells me that I have the right answer. No matter the question, I need to insert a voice in my head that tells me that I know what to say. And then I need to say it.

It works.

The voice looks like Betty-Ford Era Liza Minelli. I watch her. She’s flawless.

Brian leads me into a conference room. There are three other people in the room and I don’t know any of them. My first instinct is to feel stupid for not knowing the people in the room but then I remember Soulpepper, I remember Schultz, I remember failing to answer that question and I sit in the chair, take off my coat and wait for questions.

I need you to know that I nailed this interview. I said stupid things that were hilarious and interesting. I was honest about my work, about what I know and don’t know about playwriting, I was imperfect and it was fun.

At one point, one juror asked me if I read and my answer was, “I only read pieces of books. I don’t finish books.” Yes, thanks, I’m a writer but I don’t read, EAT IT.

The following day was a second interview, a group interview. There are five other candidates. We will all be in a room together, “just chatting”, says Brian. They asked me to prepare one question, whatever I want to ask the room and before I go, one of the jurors reminds me that, as funny as I am, she can tell that I still have an intense and sensitive side. She reminds me not to lose “it”.

That’s when I lose it.

That lady, who I have never met or heard of, has told me not to neglect my sensitive side and now I must sit and try to write the most sensitive question you could ever encounter. I want people to cry when they hear my question. I want it to be unforgettable.

It was extremely forgettable, I don’t even remember it right now.

I meet the other candidates downstairs. I wonder about each of them and try not to assume they are smarter than I am but as they ask their questions I realize, oh shit, mine sucks. 

The four jurors are there with us all day. It helps tremendously to feel like know them but I also don’t want to let them down. This is not about getting into NTS anymore, and actually I’m not sure I ever thought about getting in because I was so sure that it was an impossibility, this was about proving that I can have a conversation with strangers. 

This is about anxiety.

We sit in circle of tables and have a large conversations. One by one we pose our questions. Each time a question is posed, we drift into conversation and I consciously tell myself that I am not an Idiot. 

I spoke when I had something to say and sometimes I told myself not to speak but I never ever forced myself to say something “smart”. I learned at Soulpepper: Nope. 

The day ends and they call us back in one by one to ask us questions about our day.

“And what will you do if you don’t get in?”

“Oh. Probably go back to living. At home, you know?” I tell them that I take classes at Second City, that I run a theatre company, that I will return and that will be it.

I fly home and I don’t think I land until a week later when Brian calls to tell me that I got in. 

I hung up the phone and jumped, up and down and up and down and up and down. I really cried.

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2 Comments

  1. Loved reading this. Only in my 30’s now am I realising the more you surrender to who you are the more people will gravitate to you, no matter how different your life experiences are from them. It’s just honest and unguarded and human. Which is what we really need. It reminds me of two moments in my life where I felt like I succeeded.
    The first one I was unaware. It was the last 3 weeks of Gaulier and we had just finished doing The Shakespeare/Chekov Module to which I failed and felt like a fraud shit actor. We were now doing clown and I wanted so desperately to be funny, and I figured after a year of beautiful crisis and torture I might arrive. Nope. Not a chance. We do this turn. I push with my stupid ideas and try my best to be funny. And then within 3 seconds Philippe bangs his drum and tells me I’m absolutely awful and not funny. In that split second of defeat I look at him with complete acceptance of my failure and in the saddest voice ever I respond “yeah I know.” I wasn’t acting, I wasn’t putting on anything. I was giving up in that moment and allowing him and everyone to see it. Suddenly in that second, the whole room roars with laughter. WHAT?! And then Philippe looks at me and says “Do you know what you did to be funny” and once again I’m on and reply “YE-” He stops me mid yes and says “No you do not. Get off the stage.”
    It wasn’t until a good year that I understood that moment. What it meant. It was about trying something. The thing not working. Me giving up and not understanding why no one laughs. And then paff! Everyone laughs. As Philippe would say “We don’t laugh at the gag. We laugh at your beautiful humanity to be an idiot.” And I think the most beautiful of idiots are people who just embrace who they are and have the best pleasure to be themselves. Not boring smart people. The world has enough academics to put us to sleep.

    The second one was for a National Special K commercial. We were instructed to come in as ourselves and to be prepared to discuss the issues we have faced over time regarding the topic of body image. I have never been more myself, more transparent, more vulnerable, more don’t-give-two-fucks attitude in my entire life. They asked me to give examples of where I’ve felt frustrated or angry when dealing with my body image, and the first thing I say is how I’m tired of having to write down my weight every time I come in for an audition at this audition house. The casting director/owner of the casting house was in the room and my inner bouffon loved it and thought “yeah that’s right! I break the rules BIATCH!!
    I also go on to say that I can’t stand the industry because every time I have a meeting with my agent she tells me I’m too heavy, and need to hit the gym. That my clown teacher calls me a truck and a whale…. and the list goes on. They were in absolute awe of my ability to be unfazed by it all.
    When you’re the fat kid with a moustache in grade school and are constantly called Yokosuna’s daughter (the name of a 90’s iconic sumo wrestler) you really learn to cope or better yet eat your feelings away with bagel pizza bites.
    The director then comments and says that must be really defeating, and I say of course, but it’s just the nature of the business blahblahblah…and I won’t give up cause I’ve wanted to be famous since the first time I watched Chuck Norris and Jonathan Brandis kick every body’s asses in Side Kicks (I wish I said this but refrained haha!)

    Suffice to say, I could feel the power I had in the room over denouncing my agent and the agency house. And when I walked out I thought. I fucking booked it. Within an hour they send me an email to confirm my availability. The next day I get a call from my idiot agent telling me I booked it, and saying she “had a feeling” ….well little did she know the main reason as to why was probably because I was honest and threw her under the bus.

    And that was the big “BE YOU MOMENT”

    P.S Soulpepper is overrated and for the rich. I recently walked out during intermission at a show I saw in January. Was absolutely bored out of my mind, so it was probably the biggest blessing you flopped the interview.

    Thanks for the great piece!

    1. yes STEPHANIE!! Thank you for telling these stories! They are beautiful and so clear and inspiring. It is 6 AM and I just want to go outside and BE ME! ❤️❤️

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